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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

MTC Files Brown Act Lawsuit after City Council Flaunts Park Swap Stance

• Civic Group Wants Access to Full Public Record to Reconstruct Process that Jumpstarted Controversial Plan

BY BILL KOENEKER

In response to the Malibu City Council’s actions last week, the Malibu Township Council, through its attorney Frank Angel, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court seeking a judicial review of the allegations of Brown Act violations.
However, the legal document also seeks to have a judge mandate the city council “not only set aside and void its action of Jan. 14, but also adopt all cure-and-correct measures necessary to ensure that any renewed parkland swap proposal is being reviewed de novo at a properly noticed public meeting.”
The civic organization also wants a public release of “all swap-related public records and appropriate studies and a timely public release of all swap-related public records and appropriate studies,” and requests that the “council cure and correct its actions regarding the parkland swap; the city attorney’s dismissal of MTC’s demand to cure-and-correct as ‘noise’ and a ‘distraction’ the fact that the council’s violation of the Brown Act’s open meeting requirement is not an isolated incident and the practices such past conduct evinces or portends, petitioners also seek injunctive relief to stop and prevent future threatened violations of the Brown Act’s open meeting requirement.”
Initially, City Attorney Christi Hogin advised the council to rebuff MTC’s request that an alleged series of Brown Act violations be “cured and corrected.”
Subsequently, Hogin reversed herself and suggested the council do so.
Tempers flared at last week’s council meeting, when Hogin convinced  the council to reverse itself and reconsider its response to MTC’s allegations of state Brown Act violations “to possibly avoid litigation expense [and] appease MTC.”
In what has been described as a legal maneuver even by the city attorney herself, Hogin recommended the council members rescind the action taken at its previous meeting on Jan. 14 directing her to negotiate agreements and implement documents for the land swap by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy of acquiring city-owned Charmlee Wilderness Park for 83 acres of state-owned Bluffs Park.
The city attorney’s recommendation also included the council rescinding its action at the meeting of Jan 25 in connection with declining to cure or correct in response to MTC’s allegations of Brown Act violation.
However, another resolution was, by unanimous vote, promptly reinstated again directing  “the city attorney to negotiate agreements and implementing documents to effect land swap of Charmlee Wilderness Park for approximately 83 acres of Bluffs Park resulting in complete city control over all 93 acres of Bluffs Park. contingent on establishing that ball fields can be added to state-owned portion of Bluffs Park and confirming that the county imposes fire safety measures on camping that would be applicable to Charmlee Wilderness Park.” There were also several other directives including  directing the city attorney to negotiate a resolution in the lawsuit over the uses in Ramirez Park. Establishing the Charmlee Wilderness Park/Bluff Park Land Swap Ad Hoc Committee of Mayor [Lou] La Monte and Mayor Pro Tem [Joan] House to work with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to resolve differences over the appropriate uses and development proposed at Corral and Escondido canyons.
Hogin earlier explained what she was doing. “I'm not trying to play games. I am creating another defense to a lawsuit. That is my job,” she said.
Some critics were outraged, suggesting that Hogin was only playing games to “appease” MTC with nothing else in mind.
An MTC counsel, Jessica Cheng, who is an associate attorney from Frank Angel’s office, replied that night, “The cure is a sham. It does not let the sunshine in. The flippant tone of the city attorney is disappointing. This is important for the city. The least we can expect is the respect of the community,” she said.
After the meeting, Angel’s office challenged the council’s actions on Monday night and continued to demand the council to cure and correct violations of the Brown Act.
MTC had objected to Hogin’s recommendations saying the proposed correct and cure was only directed at one item of the letter MTC sent to the city. “The letter also requested five additional items,” said Angel that the city attorney had ignored.
It was a short time later that the lawsuit against the city was filed by Angel for MTC.

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